Kilteegan Bridge, Ireland 1974
For each member of the O’Sullivan family there are turbulent times ahead.
Eli’s need to do his best for his patients is a cause for a bitter divide in the community. Emmet seems hell bent on going down a path in life his parents dread but they’re unable to stop him. Jack’s life and liberty are in grave peril as his secret faces exposure, while Emily’s troubles are, it seems only just beginning with the return of someone she would much rather had disappeared forever. And Maria must decide, is blood really thicker than water, and should family always come first, no matter the cost?
In More Harm than Good, the Kilteegan Bridge Series continues, as the modernity of the 1970’s challenges Irish traditional ways, and generations clash, sometimes with deadly consequences.
Release date: November 15, 2022
Publisher: Gold Harp Media Ltd
Print pages: 247
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More Harm than Good
Lena Kogan loved Friday evenings. She and Eli usually spent them in the small sitting room off the library, reading the papers or a book, it was so cosy in there with a fire crackling in the grate. It wasn’t cold during the day but there was a chill in the evenings. Now the children were older it was also peaceful, which made it easier to talk about important things. Like the idea she had been mulling over in her mind for the last few days, ever since Mrs Shanahan apologetically handed in her notice.
She turned to look at her husband, he was reclining beside her on the sofa, his long legs stretched out towards the fireplace and a glass of whiskey at his elbow. He looked tired after his long week, and she noticed his blond hair could do with a trim. Eli Kogan had more patients these days than he could handle, the Kellstown patients kept coming to him instead of to their own doctor and when he said he couldn't take another doctor’s patients, they told him such heart-breaking stories about Doctor White dismissing a lump in a woman’s breast as an abscess until it was too late, or refusing to give morphine to a dying grandmother because ‘it might kill her’, that he hadn't the heart to send them away. Dr White should have been struck off, and Eli had reported him to the medical council on several occasions as had Dr Burke in Bandon, but it seemed to come to nothing. The man was a menace.
Outside the sun had gone down but it was not yet quite dark, and even through the closed window she could hear the rhythmic thud of a ball against a wall. Padraig had convinced Lena to let him paint a goal post on the gable end of the stables so he could practice taking frees all day long. He was a fine footballer and though his sport wasn’t rugby like his father, he was shaping up to be the best the Kilteegan Bridge team had.
From the distance came shouts from the upper paddock where sixteen-year-old Emmet was teaching his younger sister Sarah how to handle Molly, the twelve-hand chestnut he was rapidly growing out of. Ned, the pony, was still alive and much loved, but nobody could ride him now, Sarah was too tall and her feet were nearly on the ground with Ned, so Emmet had finally allowed her up on Molly.
‘Emmet will need a new horse soon,’ she said absent-mindedly, thinking aloud. She knew her oldest son had his eye on a beautiful black glossy stallion that Skipper was working with for some businessman from Meath, but she also knew the owner wasn’t selling. Once Skipper had soothed a powerful horse – he hated the word “breaking” – they often went on to become prize-winning racers who earned their owners a fortune.
‘Can’t he and Sarah just share Molly?’ asked Eli lazily. He had never really understood why anyone would want to ride a horse. ‘All those vet and farrier bills add up, you know.’
‘No, Eli, he’s too big for her already and still growing. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.’
He tilted his head to one side to smile at her. ‘So, what have you decided, Mrs Kogan? And do I have a say in it?’
She laughed. ‘Of course you do.’ Eli often made out he was hen-pecked, but she knew he was joking, he respected her judgement but he would never do anything he actually thought was wrong just to please her. She grew serious again. ‘I’m thinking of employing Mrs Moriarty as our new housekeeper.’
Eli sat up on the sofa with a start. ‘Mrs Moriarty, the Mouse’s wife? I mean, I know she’s a lovely woman and all that, but do you seriously want to risk drawing The Mouse down on top of us?’
Everyone called Mrs Moriarty’s husband “The Mouse”, Lena wasn’t sure why but assumed it was because of his beady eyes and pointed nose, and the way he bared his sharp yellow teeth at you when he greeted you in the street. He was an annoying little man, always playing pranks and telling tall tales. She found him insufferable, he thought he was hilarious. ‘I know, he’s an awful man, but…’
‘Can't you persuade Mrs Shanahan to stay on?’
‘Eli, of course I'd rather have Mrs Shanahan, but she’s set on going living with her son and his wife, and it’s years since she was able to climb our stairs, not that I minded one bit, it was good for the children to do their own bedrooms, but his house is all on one floor which she says is better for her knees, and she’s been very lonely in the old place since Mr Shanahan died, God rest him, and she’s looking forward to having her grandchildren around her.’
‘Well, I suppose we have to have someone new then, but why does it have to be poor Mrs Moriarty?’
Lena sighed again. ‘Because precisely that, because everyone including you calls her “poor Mrs Moriarty” and she is, she has that horrible little man as her husband to contend with, who spends all the money he can earn in The Donkey’s Ears and then goes home and gives her dog’s abuse. And despite the awful hand she’s been dealt she is so kind and giving tot he whole parish. She does meals on wheels for the elderly, she does the flowers in the church, she helps Bridie O’Loughlin in the little playschool, and everyone loves her. She’s such a giving person. And they have so children because she keeps having miscarriages, even though you’ve specifically told him how dangerous another pregnancy would be for her. I just thought she needed a safe place to come, Eli. I’m even thinking, Mrs Shanahan never let us put up her wages because of not being able to clean upstairs, so we could afford to pay Mrs Moriarty more without making The Mouse suspicious, and she could give half to him, because he’ll take it from her, but she can keep some for herself, I can even keep it here for her, so one day when she has the courage…’ He voice tailed off.
‘She can leave him?’ Eli’s eyes twinkled.
Lena blushed. ‘Well, I won't say that to her, she’s very devout and the idea of divorce or even separation would only horrify her, but at the same time maybe one day she could just go on a long holiday to her sister in England, and not come back.’
‘Good plan, Mrs Kogan.’
Lena heart flooded with love and gratitude. ‘So you agree? You don't think I’ve lost my mind?’
‘I do. And I love your mind. Almost as much as I love your...’ He pulled her towards him, but at that point their fourteen-year-old daughter came bursting into the sitting room and they had to spring apart while she told them a breathless story about how she had jumped Molly over a two-foot hurdle, and Emmet had said she was “quite good” which was high praise indeed from her older brother.
‘I’ll continue my admiration later,’ Lena’s husband whispered in her ear as she sat nodding and smiling at Sarah, and Lena felt a warm glow. Her whole life was so perfect, a husband she loved beyond measure, three happy, healthy children, her whole family around her.
On Sunday they were going to lunch at the farm, where her mother would cook one of her legendary roast dinners followed by apple pie and cream, and Jack and Skipper will tell them what’s been going on at the farm this week, and her twin sisters Molly and May would go on about sheep and their madcap plan of moving to New Zealand, and Emily and Blackie would be there and Klaus as well, the Cork historian who was like one of the family now.
Things were so much better with Maria these days, and Lena no longer felt she had to walk on eggshells around her mother. That new drug, lithium, made such a difference. Maria still had manic depression, she always would, but it was over two years since she’d had to go into St Catherine’s, the psychiatric hospital run by nuns in Cork. And the whole family was more open about her illness now, which also helped.
Eli had been the one to start it, as he overheard Lena and Emily murmuring about it one night. She would never forget what he’d said:
‘If you mother had a heart condition, or emphysema or ulcers, would you be whispering in corners, like it was shameful? No, you wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be her fault, just bad luck, and this is the same. She has a mental illness, it’s not her nerves, and she’s not a bit low, or a bit high, she has a chronic physiological disease that will need to be managed and medicated for the rest of her life, just like anything else. Diabetes, arthritis, whatever. But it doesn’t help her to have you all afraid to mention it, or skulking around the issue like it’s something to be ashamed of.’
They’d decided then to be more open and Eli was right, it was all much easier, it meant her mother could be more honest with them all about her needs and the way she was feeling at any one time, which gave Eli a chance to adjust her medication before anything too bad happened.
Tomorrow, Lena decided, she would talk to Mrs Moriarty about the housekeeping job. She had a feeling The Mouse wouldn't object to the new arrangement. It would give him more time in The Donkey’s Ears, which had gone downhill since Twinkle’s time, and more money to spend there.
Her mother had said not to bring the children on Sunday, apparently there was something to be discussed, so maybe that could be a start for Mrs Moriarty, she could come up after Mass to get to know Emmet and Sarah and Padraig, and Emily’s Nellie who would be here as well. Of course all four children already knew Mrs Moriarty and liked her as well as pitied her, just like everyone else in the village, but it would be nice if they got used to having her around the house. And that way Lena wouldn't have to worry about cooking them a meal before going up to the farm.
‘So what do you think of her?’ Sixteen-year-old Emmet was spread out on the soft grass of the orchard, a straw hat tipped over his eyes, while his cousin Nellie swung idly to and fro on the old wooden swing that Mr Shanahan had made for them years ago, hanging it on two ropes from one of the sturdier apple trees.
‘I think she’s very nice,’ said Nellie, ‘and she’s a great cook.’
‘A great cook?’ He raised himself on one elbow to frown at her, his hat tipping off his head, revealing his dark red hair. ‘How on earth do you know that?’
‘Sure, didn't we just have the dinner she made, shepherd’s pie and buttered carrots, and then rhubarb crumble.’
‘Oh stop messing, Nellie.’ With an exasperated sigh, Emmet threw himself back down on his back, adjusting his hat again against the sun he was pale skinned and burned easily. ‘You know I mean Isobel Lamkin.’
‘Oh her.’ Nellie, who’d known perfectly well who he meant all along, grinned. ‘She’s such an airhead, you'd hardly think she was sensible enough to be allowed out on her own, let alone inviting you to go hunting with her, though why anyone sensible would want to go hunting in the first place…’
‘It’s the Sport of Kings, Nellie.’
‘It’s “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable” more like, that’s a quote from the great Oscar Wilde, the only think I remember from Mrs Edward’s snoozy English class. Thank God we wont have her next year, she’s having another baby,’ she grimaced, ‘Can you imagine Mrs Edwards ‘doing it’, urgh, still she must have.’
‘there’s something wrong with you, you know that don’t you? Thinking about our English teacher like that. Anyway maybe she’s racier than we think, I don’t think the new Monsignor would approve of her teaching us about Oscar Wilde. He was on about Sodom and Gomorrah and the sins of the flesh this morning.’
‘I know, sure wasn’t I there? For a fella who has never laid a hand on a woman he sure talks about it a lot.’ She stopped speaking suddenly. ‘Between sex and the dangers of the demon drink he’s like a broken record.’
He lolled his head to one side, to look at her. She sat on the swing, her toes resting in the daisies, gazing off at the distant fields.
‘Ignore him, I do. I’m my own world when he’s rabbiting on.’ Emmet said.
She shrugged, tossing back her long fair hair. ‘ I just hate the way he lectures us all like we’re all going around committing mortal sins morning, noon and night. Chance would be a fine thing.’
Emmet laughed. Nellie was always moaning about how Kilteegan Bridge was so boring with no fanciable boys or anything to do.
The very popular Father Otawe had returned to Uganda and the parish was heartbroken after him. He’d served in Kilteegan Bridge for twelve years and in all that time nobody had anything but the highest regard for him, he was the only African priest in the diocese and Kilteegan Bridge was proud of their exotic cleric. He baptised the babies, married the couples and buried the dead with grace and kindness. He had been available to the people of the parish day and night, it was never a problem. People called for Father Otawe in the middle of the night to anoint the sick and he had performed all his work with good humour and kindness, dismissing any apologies for disturbing him by explaining that was what he was there for.
Poor Mrs Ormond his housekeeper had been so distraught when Father Otawe left that Eli had had to give her a few sleeping tablets. Apparently, she had recurring nightmares that he was being torn apart by lions though Father Otawe had told her many times he had grown up around monkeys and elephants and other harmless creatures and not lions, but the poor woman was so lonely after him she couldn’t sleep for worrying about him. She had a photograph of him in her purse, taken when he first arrived, a smiling newly ordained priest. He was the son she never had.
This new man Monsignor Collins was a complete contrast to the amiable African. He was a thunderer who talked of nothing but hellfire and sin.
‘And did you hear him this morning, going on about how the Jews killed Jesus. And poor Uncle Eli sitting there. The cheek of him.’
Emmet laughed. ‘Oh Dad doesn’t mind him, he still likes to come to Mass with us, he likes the peace of the Church, I don't think the Monsignor knows he’s Jewish anymore than most people do, Dad doesn’t hide it, but he doesn’t go on about it either, sure no-one pays any attention to the Monsignor anyway.’
He noticed they’d got off the subject of Isobel Lamkin, but he didn't bother to bring her up again. Nellie always complained the sort of girls he was interested in were boring and stuck up, but he couldn't help the way every girl flirted with him. And sometimes those girls, like Isobel, were very pretty indeed. Nellie was pretty too, beautiful in fact, but she was a nightmare for her parents the way she rattled around in skimpy outfits and insisted on getting her own way and had opinions about everything. She’d confided in him that she had full-blown plans to go to London to become a make-up artist, though despite all her bravery he noticed she’d not yet got up the guts to tell his Auntie Emily. Uncle Blackie would be heartbroken but Nellie could always get around him, but Auntie Em was cut from the same cloth as his mother, and they were not women who took kindly to things that didn’t suit them. It would be interesting to see who won the day, Emily or his wild cousin. His money was on Nellie.
‘You're not the only one with a love life, by the way,’ Nellie said suddenly.
He blinked, coming back from his drifting thoughts. ‘Are you talking about yourself?’
She blushed, stirring the daisies with her toes. ‘I might be.’
He sat up, feeling a stab of shocked protectiveness. It was like Sarah saying she had a “love life”, it would horrify him, and Nellie was only a year older than Sarah. ‘Who is it?’
‘Nobody you know.’ A faint smile played around her lips.
He relaxed and comforted himself it could only be a boy from the tech school. He and Nellie went to the secondary because it was better if you had plans to go to university but the tech was where people who wanted to go into a trade went. He was definitely going to university, but Nellie had no interest. The Tech boys were all harmless enough, probably too scared to even kiss a girl in case it was a mortal sin. ‘Oh, I’ll find out. I bet it’s Benny McLoughlin, that neanderthal who can barely read or write, or maybe his knuckle-dragging friend, Rob McGrath…anyway it’s bound to be some one of those donkeys.’
He eyes flashed and she jumped off the swing in a temper. ‘Of course it’s not them, and you shouldn't be so snobby about Benny, he’s clever with everything but words, and Rob’s not had your advantages, his mother is on the gin from morning to night, but he’s still a whole lot kinder about other people than you are and he helps Mrs Bonner with her shopping every Thursday and he won't take penny for it.’
She stormed off towards the paddock where Sarah was jumping Molly around the arena Emmet had set up for her using planks and blocks from Blackie’s farm supplies. Nellie’s parents used the sheds of Kilteegan House for storage, and Blackie always insisted Emmet could take whatever he wanted. Emmet sighed and lay back again, gazing up into the trees where tiny green apples were beginning to form. This was always how it was with Nellie these days, she seemed on edge, they would be having a perfectly pleasant conversation and then she’d take umbrage over nothing and go stamping off.
He pitied the poor boy who had fallen for her. Although he loved Nellie dearly there was no way he’d be able for a girl like her, even if she wasn’t his cousin.
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